History of The Ladies’ Library Association

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The Ladies’ Library Association of Randolph has the distinction of being one of the pioneer women’s clubs in this country, the fourth in line of those earliest organized in the General Federation and still active. In the Massachusetts Federation of Women’s Clubs, it ranks second in the date of organization.

 

The Ladies’ Library Association was the outcome of a meeting of women held on November 22, 1855 to consider the formation of a “society”. The first regular meeting was held on December 3, 1855, when nine Randolph ladies, all in their thirties or younger, met at the home of Mrs. Christopher M. Cordley, wife of the minister of the Congregational Church.

At that time, there was no public library in Randolph, so the name, “The Ladies’ Library Association” was chosen. Under the leadership of Mrs. M.T. Hendry was determined, “to consider the expediency of uniting themselves together for the purpose of mutual intercourse, social entertainment, and the attainment of some benevolent objective.” These objects stood for self-improvement, fellowship, benevolence, reading and intellectual growth. A constitution was adopted, and 41 charter members elected Mrs. Christopher M. Cordley as their first president. 

The founders voted to devote the income of the Association to the purchase of books. Their library was established with approximately 50 books. These books were all by the best authors and consisted of biography, history, travel, poetry, and fiction. The first volumes listed are, “The Life of Abraham Lincoln”, “The Life of Napoleon”, “The Life of Horace Mann”, “Recollections of 70 Years”, “Mary the Handmaid of the Lord”, “History of the Civil War”, and one fiction book, “Gayworthies”, were added later. An original list of other books still in existence are catalogued under the following subjects: History, Biography, Religion, Science, Poems, and Miscellaneous.

The Ladies’ Library Association’s first librarian, Mrs. Azel Howard, owned a Bonnet Shop on North Main Street. All the library’s purchased books were kept in her shop as it was easily accessible to the members. Mrs. Howard’s bill as librarian reads, “Commenced taking charge of the library, 1856 three years without salary, two years, $8. per year; 5 years, $10. per year; resigned 1866.”

In 1909, owing to the increase in membership and the necessity for a permanent place for the growing library, the reception room of the Church of Unity (now Trinity Episcopal Church) was secured.

The original constitution included the following excerpt. “Voted: that any lady not a member of the Association may have access to the books in the library for the annual payment of one dollar in advance. Books may be taken from the library every Tuesday and may be retained from two to four weeks according to the size of the book.”

Until April 1909, the Ladies’ Library Association meetings were held at the homes of their members taking turns in alphabetical order. A boy was designated to carry the heavy dictionary and place it on the front steps at the home of the member who was to have the next meeting. Fifty cents was the fee for joining their private club and those present at each meeting put three cents in the common fund. It is interesting to note how the time was spent at these meetings. Classes were formed for reading and recitation. Physiology was the first subject! Other scientific subjects followed. In these early years, classes were also formed for the study of history, art, botany, nutrition, current events, the microbe of that time, and in 1867 a French class.

Papers were written on different subjects and debates were held. Sometimes they devoted their time to spelling. Therefore, it was voted in May 1866, “to purchase a Worcester’s Dictionary, that there be no mistakes made in spelling, pronunciation, or the derivation of words.” Each lady would give her right-hand neighbor a word to spell, such as scissors, daguerreotype, maneuver, toothache, adieu, etc. Whenever an unfamiliar word was found in their readings, they would stop to look for the meaning of that word in their dictionary. Today, this dictionary is one of the Ladies’ Library Association’s prized possessions. 

Members sometimes read from the works of Mary Eleanor Wilkins, whose mother was a charter member. Mary Eleanor Wilkins, born at 68 South Main Street in Randolph became a widely acclaimed American author and businesswoman of the era of Mark Twain. She was especially known for her fictional work describing the hardships and frustrations of New England village life. Mary Eleanor Wilkins often used real people and real events in her stories. Many Randolph citizens who thought they could see themselves in her stories were outraged. 

Ron Lovett, Randolph High School Director of Culture and Society encouraged high school teachers to use Mary E. Wilkins (Freeman’s) works in their English and History classes.  In 1874, the Turner Free Library was established due to the Turner family’s generous donation and the collection of the Ladies’ Library books was moved there. A photograph of Randolph native, Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman, hangs on the wall of the Turner Free Library’s Quiet Room, today. 

Gentlemen always joined the ladies at the close of their meetings. Vocal or instrumental music and recitations were provided by a committee, or talented members as the entertainment for the evening. On one occasion, six Ladies’ Library members dramatized the story of an early club meeting in pantomime.  The ladies wore costumes of the period and carried a historic Daniel Webster dictionary during their performance. The evening's entertainment had to end by 8:30 p.m. Members’ husbands who attended were responsible for disposing of any left-over refreshments including donuts, cider or lemonade.  One husband would volunteer to carry the heavy dictionary, (required to be present at every meeting), to wherever the location of the collection of books was being kept. The ladies being escorted to their homes by their husbands used that time as an opportunity to share pertinent new information they had learned at their meeting.

In 1895, Randolph Historical Society shared its address with the Ladies’ Library Association. The Historical Society worked to bring Randolph’s rich history to light through displays, lectures on local history, and cultural programs such as the Civil War Encampment at Powers Farm. The Ladies’ Library Association also joined the Massachusetts Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1895.

“Encouraged by their membership with the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC), local women’s clubs turned to learning about and addressing many issues and problems. Excluded by the GFWC, hundreds of African American women’s clubs affiliated themselves with the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) to focus on family welfare among black Americans who were dealing with both poverty and racism. The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), dominated by prosperous German-Jewish women, sprang into action in the 1890’s as well, to work with newly arrived eastern European Jewish communities. The National Congress of Mothers (later the Parent Teacher Association) emerged in 1897 to address the needs of the American family and the mother’s crucial role in fulfilling those needs. Activist women throughout the country, from Boston in the East, to Seattle in the West, and Memphis in the South, all focused on improving public schools.”

Since 1926, the Ladies’ Library Association has carried out the programs, aims and purposes of the Federation.  Several members of the L.L.A. have served the Federation in an official capacity. “The distinguished lady, the late Edith French Anderson, President of the Massachusetts State Federation of Women’s Clubs from 1942-1944, began her club work in Randolph when she joined the Ladies’ Library Association in 1912. The Ladies’ Library Association has continued to serve the community in many capacities, particularly in the field of health services. In 1927 the “Well Baby Clinic” was established at the Clubhouse, aided by the Visiting Nurses Association.  Held once or twice monthly, the L.L.A. paid for the services of a prominent pediatrician for their free clinic. Community members could have their newborns weighed on the Well Baby Scale and their children could have checkups and shots.

In the 1990’s, member Mim Simmons, who was a school nurse in Randolph for 21 years, organized volunteers from the members of the club to support the clinic which thrived for 62 years. Indeed, this endeavor was a most important “benevolence”.

The “benevolent object” stated by the nine ladies in 1855 has been carried out by years of service to the community. At the meetings from September 1861 to the following May, the time was almost wholly spent in working for the soldiers of the Civil War, some of whom were husbands, brothers, or friends of the members. In 1862 the Ladies’ Library Association responded to our country's emergency calls by holding a “grand levee” for two days for the purpose of raising money to purchase clothing for the Randolph Civil War soldiers. Many meetings were devoted to work for the soldiers. The only exception was the one time they stayed home to sew garments for the soldiers. One hundred ten dollars was given to the “Sanitary Commission” to aid in the work among the sick and wounded. The Sanitary Commission also received books, medical supplies and fruit from the Association. 

Jonathan and his wife, Abigail, had one unmarried daughter named Fanny. After the death of Annie Belcher Tower Tarbell’s sister, Annie gave the Jonathan Belcher House and its furnishings to the Ladies’ Library Association in 1911. A place for the Ladies’ Library Association’s collection of books was moved to their almost final destination, the first floor library room at the Jonathan Belcher house. That same year the Ladies’ Library Association was incorporated with the help of Herbert French, and the Jonathan Belcher house began to be used for community interests.

On the question of Women’s Suffrage, the Ladies of the club were split  and the president’s deciding vote was cast in favor.

Today, community public health is taken for granted. Early in the twentieth century, however, many programs and services that are now considered the obligation and function of government agencies were simply not available.  So, the Ladies’ Library Association pioneered and organized the development of public health programs for their community. 

When so much talk about conservation was heard, home gardens for school children were started and carried on from the Spring in 1911 until 1917. Sewing was introduced into the public schools by the Association and many of the Ladies’ Library Association members were instructors. About this time, the Civic Committee earned the funds needed to equip the Prescott School (one of the early schools) with a gas stove and cooking utensils. School lunches were not provided in the 19th century. The first school lunch program was started by the indefatigable chairwoman of the Civic Committee, Miss Fannie Knight. The first school lunch was served by this chairperson and the members of her committee.

Through the efforts of the Civic Committee, many improvements were inaugurated in the town. Houses were numbered for mail delivery and the Association influenced the instituting of free rural mail delivery. Clean up days were held, public dumps obtained, signs were placed at every street in Randolph, shade trees were donated, affordable eye examinations were given to pre-school children and milk was supplied to undernourished children. A room was furnished at the Seth Mann retirement home for elderly citizens. Gifts were also given to ex-service men and women at the Norfolk County Tuberculosis Hospital.

During the years 1914 – 1915, a large amount of sewing was done for the refugees of the warring countries abroad, who later became our allies in the World War. 

The Red Cross held their meetings at the Jonathan Belcher club house and used it as the place for conducting their important work.  The records show 1,498 articles were sent from the Ladies’ Library Association’s new home to the Red Cross headquarters. First Aid and Home Nursing classes were held at 360 North Main Street after the U. S. entered the war. Surgical dressings, sponges, compresses, bandages of every kind were made, and sweaters and socks were knitted.   For many years, a branch of the American Red Cross donated money towards the payment of a child specialist, serving in the free public Well Baby Clinic. Miss Fannie Knight had a long record of outstanding leadership. She was Chairperson of the Well Baby Clinic, and a tireless worker for the Red Cross. Miss Knight was a recipient of a Pioneer Club Woman medal. 

In 1933, our Junior Ladies’ Library Association was formed. This enthusiastic group of younger ladies were active in the Second District.

In 1947 a scholarship was awarded for a qualified Randolph High School Senior. This practice of helping advance the chosen student’s college education has been ongoing to the present time. Under the leadership of Ruthie Olsen and her committee, student essays submitted for review are decided and the Scholarship Funds donated by Club members is awarded to the student who writes the most impressive essay. The Club “adopted” a single mother and her children who were physically abused in 1990 and the tradition of supporting victims of domestic violence continues today. Cheryl McConnell worked closely with DOVE and Club members contributed to the success of this endeavor with an annual DOVE vigil.

Needed items for women were collected and given to the patients in the women’s ward at the Veterans Hospital in Brockton in the past. Gathering insight and knowledge about human trafficking and homeland security issues were presented by Margaret Geary, Peter DiMarzio, USD, and the Police.

Funds were raised for the 1999 Project Smile. Doctors were sent to foreign countries to operate on children born with a cleft palate. Members of the Crafts Committee made dolls that allowed those children to draw on the doll’s face, how they looked on one side and how their face would look after their operation.

The first Holiday Showcase, a Randolph tradition, now called the Holiday Marketplace, is open to the public. The Jonathan Belcher House is beautifully decorated, vendors sell unique items, and members under the leadership of Joan Flaherty, bake tantalizing cakes, cookies, breads, and jars of home-made preserves.  Jewelry and other items created by the Crafts Committee are also popular at gift giving season. Past presidents, Marie Carr, Marie Callahan and Mary Good provided the organizational skills required for the original Holiday Showcase events. The successful Fashion Extravaganzas and Big Band Concerts brought significant revenue to the club at this time when the club was going through a financial crisis.

In 2005, the name Ladies’ Library Association was changed to the Randolph Women’s Club. Today, the Randolph Women’s Club continues to serve the community, and they remain undaunted in their efforts to bring about worthwhile changes. They are especially proud of their active Veterans Committee which is now under the capable leadership of Mary Barrett and her team Judy Azer, Leola Green and Gail Walsh.

As the Club history testifies, the Ladies’ Library Association played an integral role in the town’s early development. Going forward, it is the goal of the Randolph Women’s Club to continue engaging and building a strong community, one that celebrates a diverse population. In 2008, the first African-American club president, Vernell Fisher-Rivers was elected. Her tenure as president ensured the reflection of diversity in club welfare, interests, and events. Mary Fernandes has held many pivotal roles enhancing meaningful achievements and good relationships amongst all members. Valerie Massiah continued the legacy initiated at the 85th Anniversary of the Ladies’ Library Association. It states: “As we face the future together, may we have the confidence and courage gained from our experiences and go forward for greater service.” 

In the 21st century, the Strawberry Festival, which has become a 4th of July community tradition, was begun and continues every year. Currently, its success is due to the efforts of the talented Recording Secretary of the Randolph Women’s Club, Leslie Prescott, and dedicated members Marie Little, Mary McCallum and other dedicated club members.   

Our most important project at this time (2013) is the restoration and preservation of the Johnathan Belcher House, which was accepted for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places on April 30, 1976.  The financial wisdom of Treasurer, Linda Larson-Schwartz, has been essential for timely preservation, rehabilitation, upkeep, and house repairs. 

Recent interest in being connected with the International Women’s Day events, organized by Randolph Town Councilor Natacha Clerger, is of paramount importance. In 2019 the International Women’s Day Luncheon committee hosted the celebration of the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote in America under the leadership of Janil Stephens. The 2020 celebration marked the club’s third International Women’s Day luncheon, albeit due to the Covid 19 pandemic, it was hosted virtually by Zoom. 

The Stewardship and Archives committee continues the vision and determination to honor and advance The Randolph Women’s Club historically significant legacy. 

The members look forward to a future of remarkable accomplishments gained through education, outreach, collaboration, and the well-being of mind and body as their mission.

There is no doubt, that every Randolph Women’s Club Standing Committee and member have adopted the 3 A’s that were lived by the Ladies’ Library Association:

 

Achievements of the Past

Aims of the Present

Anticipation of the future to which we look forward to prayerfully.

Second to none, but in name we stand.

Shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand

Bonded to work for the common good.

UNITY   LOVE   &   SISTERHOOD